Light In The Attic
HIS NAME IS ALIVE - Patterns of Light LP
There is a surprising amount of music inspired by particle accelerators. Techno-classical producer Kate Simko wrote an album about the one at Fermilab, located outside her hometown of Chicago. Jazz pianist Al Blatter once improvised along to a “sonification” program that translates data collected by the Large Hadron Collider into music on stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where CERN, the multinational research organization that runs the LHC, has held several artist workshops. Sound artist Bill Fontana created a piece that used the LHC itself as an instrument, refracting sound generated by its own data. The LHC and Fermilab have each inspired their own not-particularly-good nerdcore rap anthem, complete with inter-lab beef.
So His Name Is Alive isn’t breaking new conceptual ground by taking the LHC as the inspiration for their new album Patterns of Light, but where they’ve taken that influence is entirely uncharted territory. Previous works in strange little niche have crossed multiple genre lines, but there’s always been a consistent aesthetic: clean-lined, blippy, and serene, like what you’d expect to find in a PBS documentary, or what you might imagine a massively powerful and complex piece of technology might listen to for fun. His Name Is Alive mastermind Warren Defever has gone pretty much the exact opposite way, filtering the idea of the LHC through the stonier side of ’70s rock.
Defever has spent the past 25 years picking a strange course through a field of genres that up until now has touched on goth, folk, R&B, noise, and chamber pop, but even with all that range, Patterns of Light feels like an outlier. Even if you heard 2014’s Tecuciztecatl, where the band merged shoegazey noise with vintage prog, you’ll still probably be caught off guard when the album opens with a track that–apart from the hypnotic multitrack cooing of vocalist-keyboardist Andrea Morici–sounds exactly like Dio-era Black Sabbath. It’s by far the heaviest, shreddiest, most aggressive thing Defever’s ever done, and, as far as I can tell, entirely unlike any other music ever composed for CERN.
The major difference is that past artists seem to have been inspired by the Large Hadron Collider’s earthly manifestation: the sleek lines of its beam-conducting apparatus, its intricate computer arrays, the pixelated action art of its data visualizations. Defever, on the other hand, considers it from a more cosmic perspective, which the LHC offers in abundance. After all, this is a machine that was built in order to rip the veil off the mechanisms of reality, one designed in search of something that’s often been called the “God particle.” It’s so powerful and strange that a lot of people seriously thought that it was going to destroy the universe when it was first powered up. Even after it’s been up and running for years without tearing apart the fabric of reality, people are still terrified of it.
Patterns of Light runs on this occult energy. The lyrics—with their frequent invocations of witches, dragons, and the “light of creation”—often read like spells, where knives and sacrificial murder pop up next to dark matter and the standard model of particle physics. “Silver Arc Curving in the Magnetic Field” describes the LHC collider’s 17-mile-circumference circle like the ritual site of a new techno-pagan cult–just the latest iteration in a 3000-year-old tradition of earthworks inscribed into ancient Celtic land.
It also helps Defever’s direction in genre-hopping make stronger thematic sense here than on other His Name Is Alive albums. Classic metal and prog—which the band expertly executes on cuts like “Black Wings” and “Demonmix”—have long served as vehicles for high-concept, bong-smacked, “whoa, man” philosophizing. The sunshiney psych-pop of “Calling All Believers” bears a strong resemblance to the Canadian band Klaatu’s new age-y 1976 hit “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” while the pastoral folk of “Dragon Down” sounds like it could have been lifted from a private press LP recorded by a Californian hippie cult. A front-to-back listen through Patterns of Light can feel like a tour through all the places where pop radio and esoteric thought crossed paths during the ’70s, and a tribute to the ways both music and physics strive to explain a universe that can sometimes feel stubbornly unknowable.